Norman man helps design Olympic equestrian stadium

Todd Gralla, who works for architectural firm Populous, helped design the biggest equestrian stadium in modern Olympic history.
BY CELIA AMPEL campel@opubco.com Modified: July 24, 2012 at 9:18 pm •  Published: July 25, 2012
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Todd Gralla is about to make the journey to London for the Olympic Games. He's worked toward this moment for three years, conquering every challenge put in his way and pushing the limits of what men have done before.

No, Gralla is not an athlete. He's a facility designer.

Gralla, who works for the architectural firm Populous, helped design the Olympic equestrian stadium in London. He's part of a two-man team with Charlie Kolarik in the firm's Norman office.

It's not the biggest facility the Norman horse farm owner has ever worked on — he said it pales in comparison to the Oklahoma City Fairgrounds — but it's still breaking records.

The 26,000-seat stadium, built in London's Greenwich Park, holds more people than any equestrian facility in the history of the modern Olympic Games, Gralla said.

The stadium is also the first 100 percent temporary Olympic equestrian facility, he said.

No white elephants

Because Greenwich Park is a royal park, Kansas City, Mo.-based Populous had to design a stadium that could not only be taken down after the games, but that would leave no mark on the historic grounds.

Gralla said Populous, which designed several London Olympic facilities, made an effort to keep this year's Games from being a burden to its host city. The firm didn't want to leave behind huge arenas that would be expensive to maintain and impossible to fill.

“We don't want white elephants left in London,” Gralla said.

Designing a zero-impact stadium was an architectural challenge, he said. The ground at Greenwich Park is not level, and Populous would not be allowed to level it for the Olympic Games.

To create the perfectly level field required for the equestrian events, the firm designed a flat platform to stand a few feet off the ground.

The platform had to be stable enough to withstand not only London's frequent rain, but also the shock of a 1,500-pound horse landing a two-meter jump. Gralla said some of the designers were worried at first.

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